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Not surprisingly, it took the first natural history collectors to penetrate into the Arfak Mountains a good while to recover from their ascertainment that the unreal so-called 'roofed maypole' bowers of the Vogelkop Bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus indeed were no playing houses made by the indigenous children. Copyright © Stephen Lyle

Arfak Mountains

Birding hotspot

The northeastern region of the Bird’s Head or Vogelkop Peninsula of West Papua is made up of an isolated yet massive, more or less continuous mountain chain. The name ‘Tamrau’ applies to the western portion, bisected by the grassy Kebar Valley, heartland of the indigenous Karoon peoples. The Tamrau Mountains have been very scantily surveyed for any purpose till this day. In contrast, the easternmost sector, known as the Arfak Mountains — ‘Arfak’ meaning little more than ‘interior’ in the language of the coastal Biak peoples — is since Dutch colonial times one of the most frequently explored and best known regions of West Papua.

As a consequence of this factor, and because they support all presently described Vogelkop endemics as well as provide straightforward access to largely untouched foothill, hill and montane forests that support a wonderfully diverse avifauna, the rugged Arfak Mountains are bound to become West Papua’s premier birding destination. In the northeastern watershed these mountains rise steeply from the sea — little or no coastal plain being present here — to reach a high point on Mount Humeibo (2,820 m), which, when viewed from the provincial capital and gateway Manokwari — the ‘Dorey’ of former days — is nearly hidden by Mount Tumyobou (2,480 m). Hattam, Meyah and Sougb indigenous peoples, who speak mutually unintelligible languages, all call the Arfaks home, and ultimately are the guardians of the future of the exquisite yet increasingly threatened birdlife of these mountains.

The Bird’s Head region, which for our purpose comprises the actual Bird’s Head Peninsula plus the Bomberai and Wandammen peninsulas as far east as the ‘Zoogeographer’s Gap’, harbors 14 endemic bird species, all of which occur in the Arfak area. Among these are the Vogelkop Bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus with its formidable so-called 'roofed maypole' bowers, the rare Long-tailed Paradigalla Paradigalla carunculata, easily overlooked when not vocalizing, the beautiful and little-known Arfak Astrapia Astrapia nigra, and the violently enrapturing Western Parotia Parotia sefilata. In addition, the Bird’s Head boasts 21 species with a restricted range, 15 of which can be seen in the Arfaks. In total, more than 320 bird species have so far been recorded from the Arfak region.

Vogelkop endemic birds (14 species)

White-striped Forest Rail Rallicula leucospila
Vogelkop Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles affinis
Papuan Lorikeet Charmosyna papou
Arfak Catbird Ailuroedus arfakianus
Vogelkop Bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus
Western Smoky Honeyeater Melipotes gymnops
Vogelkop Melidectes Melidectes leucostephes
Vogelkop Scrubwren Sericornis rufescens
Vogelkop Whistler Pachycephala meyeri
Long-tailed Paradigalla Paradigalla carunculata
Arfak Astrapia Astrapia nigra
Western Parotia Parotia sefilata
Ashy Robin Heteromyias albispecularis
Grey-banded Munia Lonchura vana

Restricted-range species (15 species)

Red-billed BrushturkeyTalegalla cuvieri
Chestnut Forest Rail Rallicula rubra
Western Crowned Pigeon Goura cristata
Archbold’s Nightjar Eurostopodus archboldi
Red-breasted Paradise Kingfisher Tanysiptera nympha
Black Lory Chalcopsitta atra
Modest Tiger Parrot Psittacella modesta
Rufous-sided Honeyeater Ptiloprora erythropleura
Cinnamon-browed Melidectes Melidectes ochromelas
Obscure Berrypecker Melanocharis arfakiana
Painted Quail-thrush Cinclosoma ajax
Greater Melampitta Melampitta gigantea
Smoky Robin Peneothello cryptoleuca
Green-backed Robin Pachycephalopsis hattamensis
Olive-crowned Flowerpecker Dicaeum pectorale

Widespread goodies

Dwarf Cassowary Casuarius bennetti
Northern Cassowary Casuarius unappendiculatus
Salvadori’s Teal Salvadorina waigiuensis
Wattled Brushturkey Aepypodius arfakianus
New Guinea Eagle Harpyopsis novaeguineae
Black-mantled Goshawk Accipiter melanochlamys
Lewin’s Rail Lewinia pectoralis
Spotless Crake Porzana tabuensis
New Guinea Woodcock Scolopax rosenbergii
New Guinea Bronzewing Henicophaps albifrons
Thick-billed Ground Pigeon Trugon terrestris
Cinnamon Ground Dove Gallicolumba rufigula
Bronze Ground Dove Gallicolumba beccarii
Pheasant Pigeon Otidiphaps nobilis
Rufous-throated Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx ruficollis
White-eared Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx meyerii
Greater Sooty Owl Tyto tenebricosa
Feline Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles insignis
Wallace's Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles wallacii
Mountain Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles albertisi
Shovel-billed Kookaburra Clytoceyx rex
Pesquet’s Parrot Psittrichas fulgidus
Yellow-capped Pygmy Parrot Micropsitta keiensis
Red-breasted Pygmy Parrot Micropsitta bruijnii
Blue-collared Parrot Geoffroyus simplex
Moluccan King Parrot Alisterus amboinensis
Large Fig Parrot Psittaculirostris desmarestii
Masked Bowerbird Sericulus aureus
Papuan Treecreeper Cormobates placens
Black-throated Honeyeater Caligavis subfrenata
Papuan Logrunner Orthonyx novaeguineae
Spotted Jewel-babbler Ptilorrhoa leucosticta
Blue Jewel-babbler Ptilorrhoa caerulescens
Chestnut-backed Jewel-babbler Ptilorrhoa castanonota
Great Woodswallow Artamus maximus
Mottled Berryhunter Rhagologus leucostigma
Crested Pitohui Ornorectes cristatus
Black Pitohui Melanorectes nigrescens
Rusty Whistler Pachycephala hyperythra
Northern Variable Pitohui Pitohui kirhocephalus
Hooded Pitohui Pitohui dichrous
Drongo Fantail Chaetorhynchus papuensis
Rufous Monarch Monarcha rubiensis
Torrent-lark Grallina bruijni
Glossy-mantled Manucode Manucodia atra
Crinkle-collared Manucode Manucodia chalybata
Trumpet Manucode Phonygammus keraudrenii
Superb Bird-of-paradise Lophorina superba
Magnificent Riflebird Ptiloris magnificus
Black Sicklebill Epimachus fastuosus
Black-billed Sicklebill Epimachus albertisi
Magnificent Bird-of-paradise Diphyllodes magnificus
King Bird-of-paradise Cicinnurus regius
Lesser Bird-of-paradise Paradisaea minor
Black-chinned Robin Poecilodryas brachyura
Blue-grey Robin Peneothello cyanus
White-rumped Robin Peneothello bimaculata
Torrent Flyrobin Monachella muelleriana
Garnet Robin Eugerygone rubra
Papuan Scrub Robin Drymodes beccarii
Lesser Ground Robin Amalocichla incerta
Papuan Parrotfinch Erythrura papuana

Related links

Read on about our short birding break to the Arfak Mountains.

Read on about our Amazing Arfak birding expedition to the Arfak Mountains.

Read on about our other prolonged birding expeditions visiting the Arfak Mountains.

Read on about our filming expedition for Vogelkop Bowerbird in the Arfak Mountains with the BBC Natural History Unit.

Browse our check-list of the birds of West Papua.

Recommended itineraries

Arfak montane specialties

The ballerina display of the adult male Western Parotia Parotia sefilata on its meticulously cleared ground court has to be witnessed to be believed. This amazing bird-of-paradise is but one of 54 bird species endemic to West Papua where it occurs at mid-elevations in the Arfak, Tamrau and Wandammen Mountains. Copyright © Jan Vertelman

6 days/5 nights
In search of so-called 'Vogelkop' endemics, we basically follow in the footsteps of the great Italian collectors D’Albertis and Beccari, who first explored the Hattam-country only a few kilometers away from our base in the Arfak Mountains at 1,600 m elevation on the mid-slopes of majestic Mount Indon.

Read more...

Anggi Giji basin

Spotless Crake Porzana tabuensis is common in the wet grasslands of the Anggi Giji basin in the Sougb tribal area of the southern Arfak Mountains.

3 days/3 nights
The twin mountain lakes of Anggi Giji and Anggi Gita in the Sougb-country of the southern Arfak Mountains were first visited by a western naturalist in 1904, but it was a young Ernst Mayr who in 1928 discovered the area’s paramount ornithological attraction: the beautiful Grey-banded Munia, until today known only from here and nowhere else on Earth!

Read more...

    Arfak Mountains birding facts
  • Probably the premier bird-watching destination in West Papua.
  • All 14 Vogelkop endemics occur as well as 15 out of 21 restricted-range birds present in the Bird's Head region.
  • Homeland of avian delights as Vogelkop Bowerbird, Long-tailed Paradigalla, Arfak Astrapia, and Western Parotia.
  • Straightforward access to largely untouched foothill, hill and montane forests that support a wonderfully varied birdlife comprising in excess of 320 species.
  • Heartland of friendly Hattam, Meyah and Sougb tribal peoples, unspoiled by mass tourism.
  • The possibility to combine birding with a real trekking adventure off the beaten track.

Terra typica

Some secluded Arfak endemic forms became known in Europe remarkably early into the 18th century. The Arfak Astrapia, for instance, was first illustrated as early as 1734! However, it took until September 1872 before the exuberant L. M. D’Albertis would be the first European collector to penetrate any distance into the Arfaks and as a matter of fact into montane New Guinea as a whole! The Arfak Mountains thus constitute the type locality of numerous widespread upland New Guinea animals and therefore alone are renowned in scientific literature. D’Albertis was followed by that other great Italian collector, O. Beccari, by native hunters in the service of A. A. Bruijn, by J. M. Dumas, F. Shaw-Mayer, E. Mayr, S. Bergman, and by a number of less known field collectors, who between them, little by little, unveiled and documented the enchanting birdlife of the Arfaks.